Jerry Goldsmith’s „Under Fire“ has a very special place in my heart. I was very lucky to see this movie in a movie theatre in my small hometown and it was the first movie with a Jerry score I ever saw in the theatre. “Gremlins 2” was the second one, and “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” was the last one.
“Under Fire” (1983) is an American political thriller film set during the last days of the Nicaraguan Revolution that ended the Somoza regime in 1979. It stars Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy. Jerry's score featured well-known US jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and was nominated for an Academy Award. The film editing by Mark Conte and John Bloom was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Editing, and the film was shot in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Here is the trailer
Nolte gives one of his best performances in his career, and for me, this is also Roger Spottiswoode’s best movie. The director who worked also as cutter for legendary director Sam Peckinpah became more famous for his Bond-movie “Tomorrow never dies” or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Sixth Day”, but “Under Fire” is the best in his career and his most critical one.
Even though the film is fictional, it was inspired by the murder of ABC reporter Bill Stewart and his translator Juan Espinoza by National Guard forces on June 20, 1979. ABC cameraman Jack Clark was shooting "incidental" footage and caught the entire episode on tape. The footage was shown on national television in the United States and became a major international incident, undermining what remained of Dictator Anastasio Somoza's support. The incident was the final straw for the Carter Administration's relationship with Somoza whose regime fell on July 19th (this explains one track title of the score). Nolte’s character is based on Matthew Naythons who was a photo journalist in Nicaragua and consultant during the shooting of “Under Fire.”
I read that director Roger Spottiswoode was a fan of Goldsmith's “Patton” because the score captured the human emotions of war. Goldsmith combined for this score electronic and orchestral sound and used a lot of solo instruments such as pan flutes for the Central American setting and the guitar played by Metheny. The composer pointed out to the studio that the pan flute temp track that was used in the film was not appropriate to the region, but he had to use the instruments for the score. When I was attending one of Goldsmith’s concerts in the Barbican Centre in London, Jerry was talking about this episode and that after one guy came to him and said: “You know they do not use pan flutes in Nicaragua!”, and Goldsmith made a sarcastic comment about this.
In his musical approach, “Under Fire” is one of Goldsmith’s best scores. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny fell ill during the schedule for recording and had to record his solo parts a few days later. Metheny’s way of playing fits perfect into the score.
Goldsmith uses four themes in this score. The most lyrical one is "Rafael's Theme", used also as love theme in the track “A New Love". The composer also added the synthesizers in a fabulous way to the score, for example in the track “Rafael”. We have then a march and a victorious rebel theme that can be heard in “19 de Julio”, a track with a heavy usage of synthesizers. Another theme can be called “Alex’s Theme” (track 9).
The first track called “Bajo Fuego” is also the best track of the whole score. Goldsmith combines in a perfect way the solo guitar played by Metheny with the orchestra. I remember a very nice situation when I was listening to the album at home. My mom was coming into my room and loved the second track “Sniper”. She loved the way how Goldsmith created a lovely atmosphere in the first seconds of the track before the shocking outburst of the music when the murder happens. How Goldsmith was then able to go back to the lovely atmosphere with the orchestra, pan pies, the guitar, and further percussion is truly a sign of how gifted this composer was.
I remember a very nice situation when I was listening to the album at home. My mom was coming into my room and loved the second track “Sniper”. She loved the way how Goldsmith created a lovely atmosphere in the first seconds of the track before the shocking outburst of the music. How Goldsmith was then able to go back to the lovely atmosphere with the orchestra, pan pies, the guitar, and further percussion is truly a sign how gifted the composer was.
I found a video with Goldsmith talking about the score:
The score is highly enjoyable in the different way Goldsmith uses his themes. After the dramatic “Sniper” track, we have with “House of Mammocks” a very lyrical one, and with track 4 “Betrayal” a more dramatic one and one of the best tracks of the score.
Track 6 “Rafael” is truly a masterpiece in the way Goldsmith composed this track for one of the most important scenes of the movie. You can see what a photo is able to do! This track combines again the orchestra and the pan flutes, and this time the military march becomes more dominant. This track is another highlight of the score and even without seeing the movie, you can imagine what is going on. This is musical storytelling at its best!
After the more lyrical “A New Love”, the pan flutes dominate the next track “Sandino” before we have another lyrical track called “Alex’s Theme” (that I normally skip), and then we have the lovely “Fall Of Managua”. “Rafael’s Theme” is the track with the most usage of local folk music of the whole score. Guitar, pan flutes and the orchestra are working perfectly together. I love especially the last minute of this track.
The last one “Nicaragua” is like a summary of all the different aspects of the score and the last highlight. This wonderfully composed and orchestrated track is one of my all-time favorites. This track is again fabulous musical story-telling. You have first the folk elements, then the dominance of the march and the military elements like if the music wants to tell you that the innocent local people got overrun by the military to finally find back to their peaceful life again.
I found a very nice piano transcription of the main theme:
“Under Fire” is still a movie worth watching, but you also should say that perhaps without Jerry Goldsmith’s music this movie would be not so popular. This score is not only an example for amazing movie music, it is like film music should be: supporting the movie in the best way possible and stand alone as a true masterpiece,
Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2017, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the amazingmoviemusic.com site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.